Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Do I Always Say?

I said to my daughter, "They have always been there."

I talked to my daughter mid-morning. She hadn't slept. Minority students were flooded - flooded - with messages from all corners of the university, they would be excused from classes, they would be allowed support services, there would be gatherings. The night of the election a theretofore silent group of pro-Trump revelers had burst into the common area lounge with their excitement. Their rhetoric, unfortunately, frightened one of Lucy's closest friends (a Mexican-American girl) so badly that she fled the room and called my daughter for help. They were holed up together, afraid.

I urged her to not give in to despondency and defeat. I gave no play to her sobs or sniffles. I told her to accept it, that what until now had been purely academic was real, and we had been telling her all along it was real.

"The lights have been turned on in a room where all these people have been sitting. You may not have seen them in the dark but they were always there," I told my daughter.

A short while later, I learned that on her way home, my youngest daughter was harassed and threatened, cursed. She kept her composure and came home. We talked and I encouraged her to keep her wits. The situation could have easily turned the wrong way. She needed to be careful.

"Putting your finger in a pot of water is one thing," I told her. "Putting your finger in the pot when the water is boiling will get you burned."

I called my oldest daughter a bit later to see how she was. Still rattled. Still raw. I pushed again, urging a steady, casting sand on the heat of her fear.

"You have everything you need to be strong, no matter what comes," I told my daughter. "Put your armor on and get out there. You don't lay down. You don't let this take you. This is why you are there."

'We are afraid,' she told me. 'We don't know how to be strong.'

I ignored that. "Get on with it," I told my daughter. "Do what you can to get everyone together. You are strongest together. There are tools," I told my daughter. "Use your tools."

She is mad at me for not allowing her softness, not accepting her moment of sadness and fear. I can't. My daughter has just learned for the first time in the most real terms what everyone learns at some point: it's real. Racism is real. Bigotry is real. Misogyny is real. Homophobia is real. Cruelty is part of the human condition.

And lest we find ourselves alone and smug on this side of the righteousness divide, let's remind ourselves that the white man is not universally bad. In fact, he is incredibly good and without him we have not made any of the progress we've made. He has been hurt, too. He has been afraid of us at times, and with reason, as we have not all been so good and so fair when the power has been in our hands. The white man is good and sincere and not to be called to account for the ignorance of some, any more so than our Muslim friend must apologize for the acts of animals or our Mexican friend must bow for the faults of his countrymen. Let's stop that, please. Badness is just as much a part of living as goodness and neither is the domain of one class or one color.

I got off the phone with my daughter and stayed in the living room a while, my husband and son watching a movie, my daughter singing upstairs, my mother puttering around downstairs. I dozed on the couch. When it was time for bed and the lights were off, I laid there for a moment and cried. Because I don't want my children to be hurt. I don't want my daughter to be afraid. I half considered calling all the men in my family, including my sweet baby cousin who comforted my Sara, telling her he had her back if anyone ever threatened her again - I considered calling them all and saying, "Let's go get Lucy and show those kids on that campus that they are not alone. That we will not roll over for fear."

I considered it and then half-laughed at the thought of my own opera.

Nothing has changed. What was good yesterday is good today, and when the lights came on in that room, there were your uncles, Lu, there was your dad, there's your brother, your cousins, all your aunts, I am there, your friends - strong, proud, wearing their flags - are there. Your grandparents, survivors every one, are there. The lights are there for you to see the people you might not have known. That's ok. They have always been there. But so have we, and we're not going anywhere. Let them come with whatever they bring, baby. They don't scare us. They don't stop us.

I always say to you when you head out, not "Don't go" but "Con cuidado."  Así, mi vida, pero siempre pa'lante.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Picture

You just saw Chicago. And whether you believe it or not, you didn’t see the best of Chicago. You saw everyday Chicago.

You saw Chicago today because the spotlight was on us again, except this time the cameras weren’t trained on our faults and our failures. Today, the show was about the good. But, really, what you saw depended on what details mattered to you.

I saw public school students - there was no school today so they were out in droves. Did you see them? Smiling, cheering, participating. Is that the picture you usually have of Chicago Public School students?

I saw black people - tons of black people from every corner of the city come to cheer on the city’s winning team. They, too, were joyful and full of civic pride. Is that the picture you have of Chicago’s black residents?

I saw white people, Asian people, Hispanic people - all one color - Cubbie blue. They were high-fiving one another, hugging, swaying, singing together. Common ground covered enough space to accommodate millions and millions of people in Chicago today. Did you see that?

Did you see the police and firefighters and EMTs and CTA personnel and troopers and streets and sans teams and service workers? Were they aggressive or weird or posters for ignorance and intolerance? Nope.

Today, you saw five million people in Chicago doing what Chicagoans do every day: being black, being poor, being a police officer, being young and foolish, being old and foolish. You saw incredibly gracious presentations by some pretty talented folks in business, finance, sports, and performance all drawn to Chicago by its magic, all remarking on its uniquely warm, familiar culture. These are the people who are best at what they do, top of their games, as the saying goes. In Chicago by choice.

Tears were shed today, and not for our crimes. That happens, too, and I get that we have problems. I get that we fall down. A lot. But don’t ask me if I’m afraid to have my children attend public schools. I’m proud that my children attend public schools. Don’t ask me if I’m afraid to be in the city. I’m grateful to be in the city. Don’t talk to me about my city’s problems, I know them well, unless you want to talk to me about solutions. This is my family. This is my city. And I am heart and soul a Chicagoan today and every day.

The Cubs have been a blessing in my life in so many ways, for so many the same. Today, the Cubs gave you an opportunity to see my city. When you picture Chicago, remember what you saw today.